Virginia Coach George Welsh knows all about fast starts.
Last season, his team jumped to a 4-0 record, only to fade to 6-5. This season, his team lost its first game, won four in a row, and, on Saturday, tied 20th-ranked Georgia Tech, 20-20. The Cavaliers are 4-1-1, 1-0-1 in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
But there's a difference between this year and last, Welsh said yesterday. "I feel better about this team than I did about last year's team," he said. "Last year, we had a stronger passing game, but we have a more experienced defense now. And you're supposed to win games with defense."
Saturday night, his team tied because of an opportunistic defense and the second-half revival of the running game led by new starting quarterback Don Majkowski.
"We stopped them when we had to," Welsh said, noting that Georgia Tech held the ball nearly 15 minutes more than his team did, but consistently squandered scoring chances. Yet the Cavaliers muffed the most crucial opportunity of the game, and were the first to admit it. With 9:38 remaining and the Cavaliers holding a 20-17 lead, they had driven to the Tech 11. On second and seven, Majkowski tried to force the ball to receiver Jon Muha, but linebacker Ralph Malone intercepted. Six minutes later, Tech tied the score.
"Maybe we shouldn't have passed," Welsh said. "We kick a field goal and we're up by six. But we were trying for a touchdown."
Majkowski, who replaced Kevin Ferguson as the Cavaliers' starter, will start Saturday in the homecoming game against Wake Forest, Welsh said. "He did some good things, running the ball (for 57 yards on 13 carries) and running the option."
Of Majkowski's six-for-20 passing with three interceptions, Welsh was not so pleased. "That's not real good," he said. "But we're not going to be a great passing team."
The Cavaliers are, however, one of the early surprises of a confusing year in the ACC. Of their remaining four conference games, three are at home: Wake Forest, North Carolina State (Nov. 10) and Maryland (Nov. 24). The Cavaliers travel to North Carolina Nov. 17.
The Cavaliers reported only one injury: starting linebacker Russ Swan's bruised left shoulder that probably will force him to miss practice early in the week.
Of all the offensive heroes in Maryland's 44-21 victory over North Carolina State Saturday, tailback Doug Burmeister had to wake up with the sweetest feeling the day after.
Burmeister, from Oakton High School, had played five positions at Maryland, but never before at running back. He gained 82 yards in 10 carries, with a 17-yard touchdown run against the Wolfpack.
"I thought I had about 50 yards," he said, "but I kept getting up and the referees kept moving the (first down) chains."
Maryland Coach Bobby Ross said yesterday he was pleased with just about every offensive player, and singled out John Sorna and Bill Hughes, two redshirted freshman offensive tackles.
Howard Coach Willie Jeffries said Saturday's last-second 22-21 come-from-behind triumph over Division II Virginia State was a nice reward for the players who have worked so hard. The victory was Howard's first of the season after four defeats.
"The win feels real good," said Jeffries, who took over the Bison program after head coaching stints at South Carolina State and Wichita State. "We've had two weeks (been idle) to reassess our season and we came up with same answers. Our 12.5 points per game on offense has been our albatross, so to speak. That's been the result of inexperience. We could only hope the experience will come and we'll begin to play a little better."
Jon Nicolaisen kicked three field goals, the last from 20 yards with 17 seconds left. "This win should give our young players confidence," Jeffries said. "The guys don't feel any jinx and they know they can come back and win."